Frank Bowling OBE RA, at 85 is finally being recognized for the master abstract painter he is with the first full retrospective of work at Tate Britain spanning a 60-year career. This long overdue exhibition brings together Mr Bowling’s figurative pop art, ‘map paintings’, iconic ‘poured paintings’ and abstract compositions. Utilizing techniques that include pouring, staining, stenciling, cutting and stitching his canvases, Bowling’s masterworks are on par with Turner, Rothko and Pollock.
Born in Guyana in 1934 Frank Bowling arrived in London in 1953 with plans to become a poet. However, after being introduced to the local art scene by artist Keith Crichlow he chose to pursue art instead and studied first at The Chelsea School of Art and then the Royal College of Art, alongside such pop-art greats as David Hockney and Patrick Caulfield. Mr Bowling became an abstract expressionist painter after moving to New York in 1966 and had a well received solo show at The Whitney Museum of American Art in 1971. Throughout his career Mr Bowling has maintained studios on both sides of the Atlantic, in New York and London.
In order for the exhibition at Tate Britain to take place Mr Bowling had to cede control and rely on others, as he said “I had to lie low and let them run over me. It didn’t hurt. I almost found I was enjoying it. I’m a masochist.” Frailty not withstanding he’s in his studio every day and with the help of assistants and his grandson continues to enjoy creating new artworks, some monumental, saturated in vivid color while also experimenting with new materials and techniques.
As Mr Bowling remarks in his Hales bio, the gallery that represents him…“The English landscape tradition is a rich vein that I could keep ploughing, but I don’t want to make [copies of] Constables, I want to make new works that have a spirit and richness.” The late Okwui Enwezor who curated a survey of Bowling’s large format masterworks at Haus de Kunst in Munich 2017 eloquently describes Frank Bowling’s immense capacity in glowing terms…”If Turner was the painter of the English sublime, it could be stated that Bowling is the true master of the diaspora sublime.”
Photo images from Tate Britain and Frank Bowling